A tablet for under a Benjamin?

After he grumbles about product names, Gibbs gets very excited by the MIPS Ainovo Novo7 BASIC tablet.

Product names are tricky, there's no doubt about it. If you're not going to use a meaningless string of characters such as "X77-P73" then you've got your work cut out for you because it's hard to find a good name that isn't already taken by some other company. Even internal project names have to be researched, checked that they are OK to use and vetted by lawyers for liability.

I'm not sure which high-tech company was the first to give their projects code names (also referred to as "cryptonyms"). The computer companies have been at the name game for a long time using everything from the names of planets, rivers and cities through to musicians' names, the names of comic book characters and the names of minerals.

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For example, way back in the mists of Internet time (in 1995), Intel's Advanced/ZP and Advanced/ZE motherboards were code-named "Zappa" ... which prompted the estate of Frank Zappa (who died in 1993) to complain to the point where Intel changed the project's name to "Tahiti" (I was surprised to discover this; I would have thought Frank would have rather approved of being memorialized as a computer component).

The problem with code names is that many of them are simply uncool, and other than the Zappa effort, Intel may well be the master of uncool code names with products called things like "Sandy Bridge" and "Haswell." While these names may have been used for good reasons, such as avoiding other companies' trademarks and names that might be simply annoying, there's nothing groovy at all about them.

Am I wrong in wanting my high-tech products to sound high-tech or at least sound somewhat cool?

Intel's "Alfredo" (a 1993 motherboard) was OK (maybe even saucy) while even "Aladdin" (a 1998 motherboard built for Gateway; also spelled "Alladin" probably in an attempt to avoid Disney's lawyers) wasn't too bad, but things like "Ephraim" (a 2008 solid state drive) just don't cut it.

While I love the Ubuntu operating system I have serious objections to the associated project names: 2004's "Warty Warthog" (ugh) was followed by 2005's "Hoary Hedgehog" (gak) and a galaxy of other uncool names up to the last two releases in 2011 ... "Natty Narwhal" (barf) followed by "Oneiric Ocelot" (just shoot me).

What do we have to look forward to in 2012? "Precise Pangolin"! Really?

When someone asks me what I'm running and I say "Ubuntu 11.10" I do not want to be asked, "Is that the 'Oneiric Ocelot' release?" I want to be asked, "Is that the 'Death Star' release?" or "Is that the 'Ebola' release? Those names sound serious. Names like "Donald Duck" or "Rose Geranium" ... not so much. In fact, not at all.

Even Google, which has a tendency to be somewhat cool and groovy, jettisoned those characteristics when it came to operating system project names.

For Google's Android operating system (which is, in itself, a very cool, groovy, high tech-sounding name) the company used the names of desserts! Thus we have had releases named "Cupcake," "Donut," "Éclair," "Froyo" (a premium frozen yogurt, in case you're wondering), "Gingerbread" and "Honeycomb," followed by the latest release, "Ice Cream Sandwich." Meh.

Actually it was a new product running Ice Cream Sandwich that got me on the topic of uncool product names. Despite the lack of a cool OS name ("Android Vlad the Impaler" would have been groovy), the product I was play-, er, testing is very cool and has a sort of somewhat cool name: The Ainovo Novo7 BASIC tablet (the Ainovo part of the name comes from the Chinese company based in Hong Kong that, in conjunction with U.S.-based MIPS Technologies, makes the tablet hardware).

The Ainovo Novo7 BASIC tablet

The reason this 7" tablet is so cool is that not only is it running the very latest version of Android but it also costs just $99!

Yep, you read that right, a decent-size tablet with a great feature set for under $100!

BACKGROUND: Tablet priced under $100 with Android 4.0 surfaces

The processor is a 1GHz JZ4770 made by Beijing-based Ingenic Semiconductor based on the MIPS32 architecture. This processor is designed for low power consumption and the Novo7 is claimed to have a battery life of up to eight hours of video playback which means that it should last for a day of work. It is also claimed to have a standby time of 300 hours. I've had my hands on the Novo7 for about six hours so I have yet to test these figures.

The Novo7 features a 7-inch, 800-by-480 pixel, multi-touch capacitive LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio and forward- and rear-facing cameras (0.3MP and 2MP respectively ... the front-facing camera has some serious distortion that's very noticeable when you hold the tablet in portrait mode). The video system can capture and play 1080p with support for multiple sound tracks and subtitles and there's an HDMI video out port. Other connections include 802.11 b/g/n and a USB 2.0 port (which can be used to add 3G service).

The Novo7 comes with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage and the Micro SD card port can be used to add up to another 16GB of storage.

The Novo7 arrives with a selection of apps including Facebook, YouTube, Kindle, Pandora, Documents to Go, a Web browser and several games, including a racing game, some kind of Spider-man game and the obligatory Angry Birds game (I'm not a huge games fan so these are of little interest to me ... the graphics performance they show is, however, very good).

Due to the Novo7 being built in and distributed from China, licensing restrictions prevent support for downloading apps from Google's Android Market, but you can get apps from a number of other application repositories, such as Amazon's AppStore for Android. MIPS plans to provide Android Market support when direct U.S. shipments from OEMs begin in the near future.

So far in my testing I'm really impressed. Performance is very good, "Ice Cream Sandwich" is really polished, and in terms of value, the Novo7 is remarkable. For under a Benjamin (or a "Benji," a "Franklin," or for those of you who prefer to go "gangsta," under a "c-note") this is a groundbreaking product that may well set the bar for the low end of tablets.

Ainovo appears to have an even cheaper version called the Paladin priced at $89 with a non-multi-touch restive screen, but from the rather confused and badly translated website it's hard to figure out exactly what the differences are (come on MIPS, help your partner out!).

Two higher-end versions, the Swordman and the Legend, are also in the works, but pricing is not yet available.

I am really impressed with the Ainovo Novo7 BASIC tablet. Its potential in corporate computing as a cheap utility device is fantastic, let alone the incredible consumer potential it offers. You think the consumerization of IT and BYOD ("bring your own device") has really started yet? These things are going to multiply like fleas on a dog.

The MIPS Ainovo Novo7 BASIC tablet gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5!

Gibbs is stoked on tablets in Ventura, Calif. Your excitement to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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